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SXSW: Maxed Out
"Maxed Out" was my second documentary of the day and it was a real delight. It started as a project to document how our consumer culture drives people to spend beyond their means, but it turned into an expose of the shady business practices, intense lobbying, and ethical lapses of the American banking system and they ways they take advantage of people with poor money management skills or bad luck. Looking at how credit cards are marketed and issued, it profiles a lot of different segments of the consumer credit business, and puts forward the thesis that our behavior hasn't really changed, but the the banking industry has pushed to give more and more credit to people who can't handle it and are at major risk of defaulting. Once someone gets behind, it gets harder and harder to catch up, and the recent changes in banking laws means that the methods we've traditionally provided to give people a second chance through bankruptcy now are much less available. The filmmakers did a great job with a complex topic, including some great interview footage with two guys who run a collection agency and family members who've had relative that got so depressed from their credit card debt that they committed suicide.

In the Q&A after the film, I asked them what policy changes would help. The director provided two thoughts: reform bankruptcy to again make it a viable choice for people who've gone underwater in debt, and change the credit scoring system to actually base ones credit score on your capability to pay back debts, which would keep people from overextending themselves into risky situations.